NBC News reporter explains how right-wing organizations and media are funding a scare campaign over critical race theory

Ben Collins: “It’s really good content gristle for places like Fox News — and they know, that’s the thing”

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Citation From the June 15, 2021, edition of MSNBC’s Katy Tur Reports

MICHAEL HARRIOT (SENIOR WRITER, THEROOT.COM): They’ve redefined critical race theory as the — as hating America, as hating white people. And they are having white people believe that they are teaching in classrooms across America to hate white people — which is something, like, at its face that no teacher who liked their job would do. So I don't know where they — they just took this definition, and people started believing it without any logical thought or critical thinking.

GEOFF BENNETT (GUEST ANCHOR): So Ben, these conservative groups are presenting their opposition to critical race theory as sort of a grassroots endeavor. But you and your colleagues have reported that the truth is actually far more complicated. So unpack your reporting for us.

BEN COLLINS (NBC NEWS REPORTER):  Yeah, I do want to add, by the way, that what Michael said is right — the conflation is part of the point here, and the confusion around the term is part of the point, as well.

If you watch Fox News, or if you've seen a lot of viral videos about critical race theory, you might think this is a grassroots movement. You might think that suddenly everyone is rising up against what they all know about critical race theory, and are against critical race theory. However, it's not really actually like that. There are a bunch of dark money groups that are pushing the new lines of thought, and also things like pro bono lawyers


And it's coming from sort of the top down. The Heritage Foundation, which is, you know, a known conservative group, is doing basically like trainings for this sort of thing. It has a lot of various different impacts from the conservative movements on their way down.

BENNETT:  So, Ben, what’s the endgame here? Because I understand — I can on the one hand understand the sort of endgame for conservative media. They want to gin up outrage to sort of, you know, fuel viewership or listenership. But what’s the endgame for these — these, you know, so-called conservative grassroots groups.

COLLINS: Well, you know, it keeps people engaged. And you know, Steve Bannon once said that “This is our way to save the nation,” is through the school boards. It's a way to win elections where not a lot of people are voting, in those elections at the local level. If you win those elections from the bottom up you get to have, you know, basically a movement. This is how the Tea Party started, as well, you know, through these very hyper-local elections on off years when people weren’t really paying attention. If you get people riled up enough in these spaces, you can use it as political leverage over time. And like you said, it’s really good content gristle for places like Fox News — and they know, that’s the thing.

People -- one of the stories that we did about this group in Maine, this guy was really kind of desperate to get on Tucker Carlson's show to get a little bit of payback in his fight against the school board and the superintendent. They realized you can use that as a weapon to win these local school board fights where nobody else is really paying attention.

A Media Matters study today found that Fox News has mentioned the phrase “critical race theory” nearly 1,300 times in the past three-and-a-half months. Collins and fellow NBC reporters Tyler Kingkade and Brandy Zadrozny examined group No Left Turn in Education's role in fueling right-wing outrage over the subject.